Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Descent Into Mental Illness

A daughter’s search to understand



Nyna Giles, author of The Bridesmaid’s Daughter, shares a poignant moment with her mother when she was a child.

Pound Ridge resident Nyna Giles grew up hearing stories about her mother’s glamorous life: Carolyn Schaffner Scott had escaped her small-town Ohio life in 1947 and moved to Manhattan where she become a top Ford model photographed by the likes of Richard Avedon and Francesco Scavullo. Staying at the legendary Barbizon Hotel for Women, she became best friends with Grace Kelly, who lived in the room next door. Together they explored the city, frequently attending the ballet and theater; later she was a bridesmaid at Kelly’s wedding to Prince Ranier in Monaco. But these enchanting stories didn’t mesh with Giles’s memories of her mother, who became increasingly isolated at the family’s Long Island estate and eventually moved into a homeless shelter for mentally ill women.

“People knew something was wrong with my mother, but no one did anything,” Giles recalls, noting that she missed entire years of school because her mother deemed her too ill to attend. “My mom had given up her modeling career and left Manhattan to live in Long Island. I was the third daughter, and when I was born, my mom needed a C-section and a hysterectomy which sent her straight into menopause.” It wasn’t until decades later that Giles discovered the heartbreaking truth that her birth had been the turning point in her mother’s life from which she never recovered.

The Bridesmaid’s Daughter, which Giles wrote with Eve Claxton, is the result of her search for a better understanding of her mother’s life. She admits she was concerned about negative reactions to her story from people who don’t understand mental illness. “I was afraid they would be quick to judge me and my family without reading my story in its entirety.” Indeed, in 1989, she was shocked to find her mother’s sad saga splashed on the front page of a tabloid at the checkout counter where she was buying groceries. The headline: “Former Bridesmaid of Princess Grace Lives in Homeless Shelter.” Her painful and private family secret had suddenly become very public.

A few years earlier, her mother had been brought to a psychiatric hospital, babbling and incoherent. A doctor suggested she was mentally ill, perhaps a paranoid schizophrenic. “I knew that my mother was struggling, but until that moment, no one had ever mentioned mental illness of any kind. I had no understanding of it.” The family couldn’t keep her at the psychiatric hospital unless she was a danger to herself or others. “Over the course of my life, I have hated that tired, worn-out phrase,” Giles says. “This is the frustration that people with seriously mentally ill family members endure.”

The shelter was meant to be a temporary measure. “But my mom refused to take any medication. When the staff tried to arrange for housing, she wouldn’t participate. Family members offered her places to stay, but she turned everyone down—including me. No one ever explained to us that her actions were in keeping with her diagnosis. The most seriously mentally ill don’t realize they are sick, so they won’t accept help and treatment.”

Giles did what she could for her mother, visiting frequently and arranging for her meals to be paid for at a nearby diner. After a decade at the shelter, she developed a heart condition, and Giles could finally move her into a nursing facility, where she died at age 79 in 2007. But her death didn’t end Giles’s search for an explanation how her mother’s fairy-tale life had turned into such a nightmare.

Finally, her research led her to Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. After hearing her story and history, he suggested her mother was not schizophrenic, but instead showed symptoms of postpartum psychosis, a severe psychiatric condition that sets in during the first month after birth, often leading to depression, paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. “When my mom started to get sick, it wasn’t understood as it is today. If she could have been treated, her life—and mine—would have been very different.”

“What my mother needed was an advocate, someone to take charge of her life and intervene at every level,” Giles continues. “I was so completely uneducated about the causes and effects of mental illness. I simply didn’t have the tools I needed to be that person on her behalf. But I can advocate for others, like her, now. If I can give them a voice and the courage to speak up, then the last four and a half years of writing this story will have been truly worth it.” 


Photo: Carolyn Schaffner Scott in happier times before postpartum psychosis destroyed her life.

 

Add your comment:

Connect With Us

             

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Catch the Vibe Newsletter

See this weekend's events in the area!
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Uplifters: Anna DiPace-Zullo

Local teacher helps local woman use Pilates to feel better inside and out

Forest Therapy––Stopping Nature Deficit Disorder

New evidence suggests an indoor lifestyle is bad for your health

Profiles

Your Guides to Leading Local Professionals

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

July 2018

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Kykuit, a hilltop paradise, is now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Kykuit, a hilltop paradise, is now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Kykuit, a hilltop paradise, is now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

In Ayurveda, health is achieved when there is a balance in body, mind, and spirit. Stress effects all of these components, and so balance must concentrate on all three. Come and discover:...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lewisboro Library
15 Main St
South Salem, NY  10590
View map »


Sponsor: Dr. Somesh N. Kaushik
Telephone: 914-875-9088
Contact Name: Dr. Somesh N. Kaushik
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Kykuit, a hilltop paradise, is now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Kykuit, a hilltop paradise, is now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Fridays, July 20, August 17, September 21, 9:30 - 10:30 AM Katonah Museum opens its doors to babies and their new parents and caregivers for an enriching experience, a chance to meet local...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
134 Jay Street, Katonah, NY 10536
Katonah, NY  10536
View map »


Telephone: 191-423-29555

More information

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Kykuit, a hilltop paradise, is now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Little Radical Theatrics Inc (Fatima Viegas, Executive Producer) is thrilled to be presenting its Summer 2018  Production of "Ragtime".  In an effort to truly live up to...

Cost: $10-$25

Where:
Grinton Will Library
1500 Central Park Ave
Yonkers, NY  10710
View map »


Sponsor: Little Radical Theatrics
Telephone: 914-589-1669
Contact Name: Fatima Viegas
Website »

More information

 Little Radical Theatrics Inc (Fatima Viegas, Executive Producer) is thrilled to be presenting its Summer 2018  Production of "Ragtime".  In an effort to truly live...

Cost: $10-$25

Where:
Grinton Will Library
1500 Central Park Ave
Yonkers, NY  10710
View map »


Sponsor: Little Radical Theatrics
Telephone: 914-589-1669
Contact Name: Fatima Viegas
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Westchester Community is in need of more than 40 foster homes to provide the county’s most vulnerable children with housing in a safe and stable environment. For more information and to...

Cost: Free

Where:
United Way of Westchester and Putnam
336 Central Avenue
White Plains, NY  10606
View map »


Sponsor: United Way of Westchester and Putnam
Telephone: 914-997-6700
Contact Name: Toyae Liverpool
Website »

More information

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Kykuit, a hilltop paradise, is now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Little Radical Theatrics Inc (Fatima Viegas, Executive Producer) is thrilled to be presenting its Summer 2018  Production of "Ragtime".  In an effort to truly live up to...

Cost: $10-$25

Where:
Grinton Will Library
1500 Central Park Ave
Yonkers, NY  10710
View map »


Sponsor: Little Radical Theatrics
Telephone: 914-589-1669
Contact Name: Fatima Viegas
Website »

More information

 Little Radical Theatrics Inc (Fatima Viegas, Executive Producer) is thrilled to be presenting its Summer 2018  Production of "Ragtime".  In an effort to truly live...

Cost: $10-$25

Where:
Grinton Will Library
1500 Central Park Ave
Yonkers, NY  10710
View map »


Sponsor: Little Radical Theatrics
Telephone: 914-589-1669
Contact Name: Fatima Viegas
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags